Defining Eagle County’s ‘open space’ nearing public vote
By the Numbers
$4 million: Annual money generated from open space tax.
$6.5 million: Current balance of the open space fund.
11,000 acres: Land protected since 2002, when the open space tax was implemented.
2025: Open space tax expires.
Source: Toby Sprunk, open space director
EAGLE COUNTY — For years, trails in the Vail Valley have relied on the hands of nonprofits and volunteers, but a stable source of funding could be on the way in the form of redefining “open space.”
Currently, the open space tax, which began in 2002 and ends in 2025, generates about $4 million per year. As of now, that money goes primarily toward land acquisitions, said Toby Sprunk, the county’s open space director, with funding for a few projects.
In order to tap into that money to support local trails, both hard and soft, county commissioners will be polling the public to measure opinions about including trails as something the open space tax dollars could be used for.
“The Board of County Commissioners has been hearing for a long time how important trails are to the community, both hard and soft trails,” county commissioner Jill Ryan said at the Vail Valley Trails Connection open house on Wednesday. “If that polls well, then that will be on the ballot in November, plus we’re going to ask about extending the open space tax beyond 2025.”
Vail Valley Trails Connection is leading the master planning process for Eagle County in terms of connecting communities with a trail system from Vail Pass to Dotsero.
“We’re going to continue getting people’s feedback at the rest of the open houses,” said Rich Carroll, Vail Valley Trails Connection founding member and board member. “The collaboration is huge on this piece.”
Vail Valley Trails Connection is working with local trails organizations, including ECO Trails and Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association, and is also seeking public input about what trail users like, dislike or want changed. The next open house is scheduled to be Avon on June 15. Open houses are also scheduled for Basalt and Gypsum.
“We all have these visions and dreams of having better trails in our backyard,” said Jamie Malin, of Vail Valley Trails Connection and Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association, “and the first step to that is to build a master plan so then you can start chipping away.”
Trails include everything from hiking to mountain biking to dirt biking and everything in between.
Since 2002, more than 11,000 acres have been protected using open space funds, and many of those areas have public access points.
“We’ve already been having these discussions about the future of the program with different discussions going back and forth about use of funds,” Sprunk said.
The open space tax, which is not a use-it-or-lose-it deal (the money can build up), bought the $1.4 million State Bridge Landing on the Colorado River, providing critical river access points.
The tax also helped purchase the $5.2 million West Avon Preserve in collaboration with the town of Avon, which owns the land.
Currently, the fund holds about $6.5 million, Sprunk said.
Including trails in the definition of “open space” would help Vail Valley Trails Connection build a long-term plan with secure funding.
“That’s the game changer,” said Yuri Kostick, an active member in the trails community. “We’ve been doing all of this stuff for 20-30 years as volunteers, but if you can actually get some paid staff in place, like they do in Breckenridge and Park City, then we can do more.”
While trails spread across the county, Vail Valley Trails Connection and similar organizations are working to connect the community for the better.
“This is really one valley,” Carroll said, “and this is one community.”
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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